Game Center, Regular Season Round 20: Reaching the two-thirds mark
January will come to a close with the games of Round 20. Two of the great EuroCup sides will duel when Valencia Basket hosts Khimki Moscow Region. CSKA Moscow will look to continue its home-court dominance of Brose Bamberg when they meet; CSKA has never lost in seven past meetings in Moscow between the sides. And Andrew Goudelock of AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan will look to get the best of his former team when Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv comes to the fashion capital; Maccabi won its most-recent EuroLeague title at Mediolanum Forum in 2014.
Panathinaikos Superfoods Athens vs Zalgiris Kaunas
A game with major ramifications in the race for home-court advantage takes place in the Greek capital, where Panathinaikos (12-7) welcomes Zalgiris (12-7) for a game which will split their tie for fourth place.
The backcourt battle will feature league-leading assister Nick Calathes (8.4 apg.) going head to head with Kevin Pangos, who set a new Zalgiris record with 15 assists last week. Panathinaikos will seek to regain its invincibility in Athens after losing its first regular season home game in more than a year against CSKA in Round 19, while Zalgiris needs to snap a two-game losing sequence on the road.
Real Madrid vs Anadolu Efes Istanbul
The other team currently tied for fourth place, Madrid (12-7), will look to get back to its winning ways against an Efes (5-14) team that is much more dangerous than its position at the bottom of the standings might suggest. Since the arrival of Toney Douglas to the backcourt, Efes has averaged 89 points per game, but Madrid is the second-highest scoring team in the competition (83.9 ppg.) and will relish the chance to take on Efes’s league-worst defense, which has conceded 83.4 points per game. Expect a shootout as Madrid seeks a fifth straight home victory, while Efes looks for its first road win since Round 7.
Unicaja Malaga vs Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz
An all-Spanish affair could be a serious momentum-changer in the race for the playoffs as Unicaja (8-11) welcomes Baskonia (8-11) for a game that could leave the winner just one game short of the top half of the standings. The host will have confidence renewed after stopping a three-game losing streak with last week’s win over Madrid, while Baskonia’s charge up the standings has been halted by a run of just one win in five. Unicaja is the league’s second-best offensive rebounding team, averaging 12.8 per game, while Baskonia ranks second in assists (19.3 per game).
CSKA Moscow vs Brose Bamberg
Brose (7-12) will aim for its first-ever win in Moscow against a CSKA (15-4) team eager to protect its two-game lead atop the standings. CSKA is renowned as the competition’s most explosive offensive unit, but last week’s victory over Panathinaikos showed that Dimitris Itoudis’s men can also grind out narrow low-scoring successes when necessary, and Brose has a major challenge to prevent its road losing streak from increasing to seven straight games. Brose will certainly have to find a way to restrict Sergio Rodriguez, who seems to be getting better every week and has made at least 2 triples in each of his last five games.
Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul vs FC Barcelona Lassa
Every time it seems that Barcelona’s (7-12) playoff challenge is in danger of collapsing, the Spanish club has kept its hopes alive by pulling out a big win, doing so again with last week’s victory over Brose Bamberg. And after already defeating CSKA Moscow, Olympiacos and Panathinaikos this season, Barcelona will not be daunted by facing Fenerbahce (13-6). The reigning champ is in excellent form, though, winning four consecutive games to climb into joint-second place. A major challenge for the visiting defense is disrupting Fenerbahce’s long-range shooting game, with Zeljko Obradovic’s men making 41.2% of their three-point attempts so far this season, which is second-best in the league.
Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade vs Olympiacos Piraeus
Two extremely unpredictable teams meet in Belgrade, where Zvezda (7-12) will look to end a three-game losing slide against an Olympiacos (13-6) team that has lost four of its last five away games, being hammered by 32 and 28 points in the last two. The Reds have averaged just 60.4 points per game in those five road trips, so they need to significantly improve their offensive production. Zvezda has attempted the third-highest number of three-pointers in the league, 25.6 per game, but has not always been successful with that strategy, making just 32.9% of long-range shots – only Olympiacos, with 32.4%, has fared worse.
Valencia Basket vs Khimki Moscow Region
Khimki’s (11-8) current run of three wins in four games has lifted the Russian team to within a game of the top four, and that gap could be surmounted with victory over a Valencia Basket (6-13) team that has been involved in several close battles recently – four of the Spanish team’s last five outings have been settled by 5 points or less. Khimki is tied for the league lead in steals (7.7 per game) and will seek to use those ball-hounding skills to unsettle a Valencia offense that has averaged just 75.4 points per game, which is second-lowest in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague.
AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan vs Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv
Newly-confident Milan (6-13) will aim for its third consecutive victory against a Maccabi team (10-9) eager to make a good start to a run of three road trips in the next four rounds. The Israeli side has lost five consecutive away games by an average of 18.4 points, and badly needs to toughen up on its travels to maintain its grip on a playoffs position. However Maccabi has fond memories of Milan, where it won the 2014 EuroLeague crown. Milan has scored at least 80 points in each of its last five outings, but will have to work hard to avoid being heavily outrebounded by a Maccabi team that leads the league in that category with an average of 37.3 boards per game.